Saturday 16 December 2017

Review: History: Once Upon A Secret by Mimi Alford

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There are many books about John F Kennedy, America's beloved first Catholic president; but until the last few weeks the world didn't know that he liked to play with rubber ducks while bathing with a teenage paramour in the White House, or that he encouraged his lover to perform sex acts on other men while he watched. It's a long way from Camelot.

Mimi Alford -- Mimi Beardsley during her time as JFK's plaything -- reveals this and much more in her new book, Once Upon a Secret, an unrepentant look back at the 17 months she spent as Kennedy's mistress.

Arriving in Washington as a 19-year-old virgin in the summer of 1962 to begin an internship in the White House, it wasn't long before the tall, shapely Mimi attracted the roving eye of the world's most powerful man.

Only four days after she began her job in the White House press office, they became intimate. Kennedy's close aides had invited her to what she thought was an after-work staff get-together in the private quarters of the White House, but which turned out to be the night she lost her virginity in Jackie Kennedy's bedroom.

"I noticed he was moving closer and closer," Alford writes of the episode. "I could feel his breath on my neck. He put his hand on my shoulder. 'This is a very private room,' he said. "The next thing I knew he was standing in front of me, his face inches away, his eyes staring directly into mine. He placed both hands on my shoulders and guided me toward the edge of the bed . . . slowly he unbuttoned my shirtdress and touched my breasts. Then he reached up between my legs and started to pull off my underwear . . . he pulled down his pants and then he was above me."

The 45-year-old Kennedy didn't seem to be concerned about taking the virginity of a teenager, though he did ask during the sex if she was feeling all right.

And so began the affair that saw a young, inexperienced girl from New Jersey satisfying the president whenever, and wherever, he felt the need.

Jackie Kennedy and the children were often away and JFK's aides were happy to arrange trysts between them. Beardsley was completely in awe of her older lover. She often stayed the night in the White House. They bathed with a set of rubber ducks that Kennedy kept in his bath, playing games and naming them after Kennedy family members.

Alford writes that during their liaisons they had the White House private quarters to themselves. The Secret Service agents knew to stay out of the way. "I was so pleased with myself at being chosen by the president that I didn't feel self-conscious at all about wearing the same clothes two days in a row. If my (White House) office mates noticed, I didn't care. I felt invulnerable, as if I was cloaked in the president's power."

Though their relationship was based on sex, she writes that JFK showed a genuine interest in her life, always asking about her studies and friends. But they never kissed and she always called him "Mr President".

The most unsavoury passage in her book details how Kennedy asked her to "take care of" a stressed-out aide, who had been watching them frolic in the White House pool.

"This was a challenge to give Dave Powers oral sex," Alford writes. "I don't think the president thought that I'd do it, but I'm ashamed to say that I did. Dave was jolly and obedient as I stood in the shallow end of the pool and performed my duties. The president silently watched."

Though Kennedy apologised to Powers and Beardsley, a few months later he asked her to "take care of my baby brother", Teddy Kennedy. "This time I felt a flash of anger," Alford recalled. "And for the first time I stood up to him. 'You've got to be kidding,' I said. 'Absolutely not, Mr. President.' He immediately dropped the subject."

After her internship was over, Kennedy said he'd call Mimi when she returned to college and he kept his word, using the pseudonym Michael Carter. During one conversation, she told him that she could be pregnant.

"The president took the news in his stride, but he shouldn't have been surprised. I knew nothing about birth control and he never used protection with me (either because of his Catholicism or his recklessness, I could never be sure)," Alford writes.

Kennedy's right-hand man Powers called her an hour later with a contact for an abortion doctor in New Jersey. Though it was a false alarm, it didn't seem to faze the president that abortion in the US was illegal at the time or that it was against his religion.

Alford says she was always aware the affair was destined to end and it did, not long before Kennedy was murdered. However, they were still in touch and she spoke to him shortly before he went on the trip to Dallas.

She married her college sweetheart, divorced and eventually remarried.

Her identity as one of JFK's lovers was first revealed in 2003 after she was unmasked by a New York tabloid. She had kept the secret all the time since the affair in 1962/63 -- but decided then that she wanted to tell her story her own way, with the perspective of a mature woman.

Alford's story is completely credible, and it's easy to see how she became swept away by the handsome, powerful and persuasive JFK.

Other than the obvious motivation -- money -- why Alford felt the need to reveal all now is rather strange. She says that it is her story, and obviously feels she has every right to tell it.

At less than 200 pages, Once Upon A Secret is a quick read and there are no heroes at the end of the story.

JFK comes across as predatory and massively self-absorbed, and young Mimi Beardsley doesn't fare much better, professing herself to be a guilt-free adulteress.

Those who still think fondly of JFK and the Camelot era won't find much to cheer in this book.

Irish-American Debbie McGoldrick is the editor of the Irish Voice in New York.

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